Linked in categories: 2018 | Dakar 2018 | Rallyraid

Dakar Rally 2018: Mission accomplished - Fiat PanDakar crew is back with trucks

lang Editor: Hansy Schekahn lang Photos: See credits under article   lang In database since December 08, 2017

Do you know Giulio Verzeletti? The 60-year old Italian will be back at the Dakar Rally 2018 for his 16th competition. 1996 he started with a bike, later switched to the truck category. Normally nothing so special for a senior-Dakar competitor. But for Verzeletti and his crew it is. 2018 he will be navigator in a Mercedes Unimog, together with Antonio Cabini and his daughter Raffaella Cabini.

That both are very well experienced with their Mercedes Unimog 400 is one story. But Giulio Verzeletti and Antonio Cabini wrote history in the 2017 edition of Dakar, when they finished the first time with the legendary Fiat PanDakar.

We remember. In 2007 the Italian car-company Fiat announced the start of two special prepared Fiat Panda 4x4, called "PanDakar". What first sounds like a joke was meant for real: They hired former Dakar winner Bruno Saby from France and Italian WRC World Champion Miki Biasion as drivers. Nobody knows if they really thought about finishing the race - but as a marketing-deal is was the next big sensation after cars like the Citroen 2CV, Mercedes 6x6, Jaguar XJ12 or Rolls Royce.

The car of Biasion retired early - and because one of the essential assistance-trucks was lost in the desert of Africa, the Fiat-Abarth Team had to retire from the race. In October 2017 the Team Orobica Raid of Giulio Verzeletti and his crew took the responsibility of the two Fiat PanDakar, the team was upgraded with two fast-assistance Mercedes Unimog trucks and two trucks for logistics.

The goal was clearly defined: Finish the Dakar Rally. But that won´t happen - until 2017. Giulio Verzeletti and Antonio Cabini re-prepared one of the now 10-year old Pandas, put an 180hp two-litre turbodiesel engine under the bonnet. "I'd say around 2,000 hours of work have gone into this tiny car," Verzeletti said about the car. "The biggest limit was just its size. The suspension travel is so small that it takes a real pounding all day." Finally they made it as 55th in the cars - and wrote history.

Mission accomplished, time to retire? No. Not only Verzeletti, nearly all the Orobica-team will be back in 2018. But this time with three Unimog 400 racetrucks. "Now that this mission is accomplished, we are back on the Dakar but on a truck," the Italian said. "The target is the same: Finishing the race and share this great adventure with the friends of the Orobica team and the other competitors of this crazy caravan. The Dakar Rally is a fixed appointment for me!"

The team will start with the racenumbers 533, 534 and 535. The 534-Unimog is piloted by Paolo Calabria and navigated by Giuseppe Fortuna. "It will be strange to return to the Dakar without the Pandakar because we have suffered and rejoiced so much around this project," said Calabria. "The adventure of the Pandakar in fact was possible and successful thanks to the team spirit that we share. This year we aim at finishing."

In the third truck we will see the Italian-trio Nicola Montecchio, Loris Calubini and Carlo Cabini. "The great experience of having the Pandakar on the podium last year and the relation with the team members will remain a milestone," Montecchio reported. "This year I face a new adventure. It's exciting to be on the other side of the race this year as a driver of the Unimog truck. With 3 trucks at the start, we are the biggest Italian team and it would be great to be a reference."


Photos: Orobica Raid


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